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Switch maker introduces a 'Data Center Fabric' architecture

Brocade and Cisco are both seeking to more closely connect applications and storage

October 23, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Brocade Communication Systems Inc. today announced that it is developing what it calls a Data Center Fabric architecture, a product strategy built around optimized server and storage virtualization, application services and policy-based automation that will materialize over the next six months with new products in five categories.

At its annual end-user conference in Las Vegas, Brocade said its Data Center Fabric product road map will revolve around applications such as continuous data protection, disaster recovery, file and block data migration across heterogeneous environments, server and storage virtualization, and encryption for data in-flight and at-rest.

Cisco Systems Inc. recently announced a similar strategy at VMworld 2007 in Las Vegas, also calling it a "Data Center Fabric" strategy. Cisco CEO John Chambers said that the data center will consist of a cloud populated by servers, storage and Cisco's "intelligent" networking gear, all managed by Cisco and its partners -- starting with VMware. (See "VMware, Cisco say data center OS is on its way.")

But Tom Buiocci, Brocade's vice president of marketing, said his company's framework differs in that its is application- and data-based, not entirely network-based.

"All the intelligence will not go into the network. Our competitor would call [theirs] a network architecture," Buiocci said. "Our approach will leverage the intelligence our partners have put into servers, server virtualization, storage and of course the SAN. "This is not our version of their thing. Is the general category the same? Yes. Is the approach the same? No. The operating system is going to tell us how to behave."

Buiocci said Brocade is also partnering with VMware in its Data Center Fabric strategy, but he pointed to Brocade's advantage over Cisco with ownership of more than 80% of the switching infrastructure of installed storage-area networks (SAN). Both Brocade's and Cisco's switches by default attach not only to traditional servers, but also to virtualized servers, virtualized storage and WANs. "We... sit in the middle of almost every data center. Our switches carry the application data."

Brocade's Data Center Architecture product rollout began last week with an upgrade to its Brocade 48000 director-class switch, which improved its throughput from 4Gbit/sec. to 8Gbit/sec.

"We're also alluding to a future backbone data center switch product that we're calling the Brocade DCX. The DCX will be a combination of a large hardware switch and specialized firmware, Buiocchi said.

The Brocade DCX is a multiprotocol director-class switch capable of delivering data over many network protocols, including Ethernet, Fibre Channel, Fiber Channel over Ethernet and iSCSI. The DCX is interoperable with existing Brocade directors -- including the Brocade M6140, the Brocade MI10k, and the Brocade 48000. Buiocci said connectivity with devices will be based on standards, not on proprietary application programming interfaces. Bob Laliberte, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass., said Brocade is essentially looking to connect applications running on different platforms. "An application running on this platform may need to connect up and share data with something else that might be on a SAN or the [file-area network] or a high-performance computing platform," he said. "They're looking at this backbone as something that bridges all these connections."

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